The train leaving Buffalo. Photo courtesy of Johnson County Library
As the west was being settled, many towns vied for the railroad to come to their town. The railroad brought goods from back east and took western coal and livestock back east. Buffalo, Wyoming was no exception, and when the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad brought the line west from Nebraska, Buffalo was hoping to be on the railroad’s route.
When Buffalo got it’s start in 1882, goods were freighted in by wagons drawn by teams of horses, mules or oxen. Until the rails came to Clearmont, goods had to freighted from Rock River, on the Union Pacific rail line, about 300 miles south. When the Burlington-Missouri River Railroad came to Clearmont, Buffalo freight could be picked up there, a mere 30 miles away. Still, Buffalo had hopes that the Burlington line would come there.
In a Buffalo Bulletin July 21, 1892 article, titled From Buffalo to Croton, Sight and Scenes along the Route: …It is calculated that Suggs will be the railroad terminus for at least six weeks, if not two months. Railroad to Buffalo is all the talk at this point….
However, due to the unsettled nature of Johnson County during the Johnson County Range War, the promoters on the railroad decided on a safer route, so the rails bypassed Buffalo, turning instead to the north about three miles outside of Clearmont, and coming instead into Sheridan.
But, Buffalo didn’t give up the idea of a railroad. In 1907 Johnson County Resident Yonkie Walters went to California and told his acquaintances about the beauty of Wyoming and the need for a railroad in Buffalo. One promoter, C.E. Loss, agreed to look over the possibilities. Nothing happened for several years until 1912 when a man named Charles B. Duffy took over as general manager, and the railroad was built and named the Wyoming Railroad.
According to an article in the Feb 19, 1914, Buffalo Bulletin:
The Clearmont and Buffalo railroad company have let the contract to construct the road from Cedar Rapids (now Ucross) to within three miles of Buffalo. Watt Bros., of Moorcroft are now encamped at the Charles Waegele ranch near Cedar Rapids with their outfit ready to begin operations as soon as the frost goes out of the ground so that they can begin work. Their contract calls for them to build the grade to the James Murray ranch on Clear creek
With ties made from local timber in the Big Horn Mountains the first line was laid in November 1913.
Trees most suitable for ties were between eight and 11 inches in diameter. The trees had to be cut down, and then shaped into ties by hand by men who were called ‘Tie Hacks.”
After the ties were cut, they had to be moved down the mountain. A flume was built to harness the water in Clear Creek to float the ties down to where they could be transported by wagon to the rail bed. The fast moving water could carry the ties down the mountain at a speed of over 60 miles per hour. Men called flume walkers patrolled the flume, breaking up log jams and checking for broken flume boards.
Sometimes the workers, looking for a quick way down the mountain, would build a flume boat with boards nailed across to make a seat for the rider. It could be a wild ride. Like the ties, the boat could travel over 60 miles per hour, with no way to steer the boat or control the speed. Amazingly, nobody who rode a flume boat was ever killed or even seriously injured.
Today Tie Hack Dam and Tie Hack Campground in the Big Horn Mountains honor these hardworking men who helped to bring the rails to Buffalo.
While the construction was being done, several sidings were established along the rail line. Today, their names only survive in the annals of history, Cedar Rapids, (now Ucross), Double Crossing, and Redman Siding.
As the train tracks neared Buffalo, a roundhouse was built on the east side of Buffalo and is still standing today. At one time there was also a grain elevator, stockyards, and a loading chute. A depot was also built and it has now been refurbished as a retail store in Buffalo.
In the Buffalo Voice paper on June 8, 1917:
Work was begun on the construction of a grain elevator which will be erected near the Wyoming Railway roundhouse one and one-half miles east of Buffalo. The Farmers’ Grain and Elevator company of Sheridan is the promoter of the new venture, and the construction work is in charge of C. F. Lehart, who arrived in Buffalo last evening.
The principal traffic of the Wyoming Railway was coal from affiliated mines near Buffalo and with their demise the railroad lost its principal income.
The Wyoming Railroad company at one time owned owed 3 steam locomotives, 2 passenger cars, 5 freight cars (reportedly not interchangeable), and 1 service car.
George W. Donaldson, who ran a livery stable in Clearmont, furnished teams to work on the rail line. He also held the first cash fare slip for the new Wyoming railroad. In a Sheridan Press article from 1941, Donaldson recalled that Charles Sheldon was the manager and conductor[; Mike Miller, engineer; Fred Lohse, fireman; and Brad Meadows was the brakeman.
Donaldson remembered that the right-of-way was still unfenced, and that the brakeman, Meadows. had to open and shut the wire gates between the different ranches.
In its final years the railroad usually employed 17 people. The line was plagued by money problems from the start, and local people often referred to it as ‘Duffy’s Bluff’ or CB&BM, (Clearmont to Buffalo and Back Maybe) and was abandoned in 1952.
Today, the Buffalo Depot, the old Roundhouse, and Engine 105, on display in the Buffalo City Park, are the only remnants of the dream of a railroad into Buffalo.
(Much of the Info for this article came from the Clearmont Historical Group book, The Rails Come to Clearmont.)